Political, community and business representatives in Ballyclare have called for an increased police presence in and around the town centre.
The call was made following a recent spate of anti-social behaviour and vandalism in the area during which several business premises were damaged and people reported being harassed by crowds of youths.
Several prominent town centre businesses have been targeted by vandals in recent weeks, and there have also been reports of cars being damaged and fires being lit by youths at the site of the old Woodsides store at The Square.
Political, community and business representatives believe the anti-social behaviour problem in the town centre hasn’t been helped by several factors, including a shortage of police officers on the ground, the closure of the town’s youth centre and a lack of parental responsibility.
The president of Ballyclare Chamber of Trade, David Reade, condemned the recent acts of vandalism, and has called for an increased police presence in the town.
“We need a police presence in the area to stop this happening. Kids aren’t being controlled. I would also ask parents to be aware of what their children are doing at night, and to show a bit more responsibility,” he said.
Ballyclare and District Policing and Community Forum chairperson, Valerie Jenkins, has described the recent incidents as “a disaster.”
“People now feel that Ballyclare has been forgotten about by the police. There is a lack of police on the ground. I know that they are stretched and that other areas in the borough need service too, but Ballyclare has been left out in the cold now. There used to be the occasional incident now and again, but now it just seems to be continuous.
“It is the responsibility of parents to know where their children are, and I would urge parents to be aware of what their children are doing, especially now that the darker nights are here. It is a shame that the youth club is closed. It gave the children something to do in a safe environment, and I think that with it now being closed there are more children running the streets,” she commented.
UUP Councillor Vera McWilliam condemned the recent anti-social behaviour in the town, and criticised policing deployment.
“When the attacks take place, the ironic thing is there are no police about. Even when people ring them, there is only one car on. If it’s at an arrest or something else, then there’s no car available. So it is fine chat and fine talk coming from the police to say they have the resources, but there is only the one car. By the time the car does come, the perpetrators are away.
“Anti-social behaviour is on the up, not only in Ballyclare, but all over. We understand there are cuts in the police force, but that’s no good to the people who have had their businesses damaged or who have been intimidated by groups of youths. The parents need to take an interest in where their children are going at night, and maybe that will help the situation,” she said.
TUV Councillor David Arthurs condemned the recent attacks, and spoke of a lack of visible policing.
“These attacks are not welcome in Ballyclare. We have people trying to attract shoppers to the area and make a living, and these incidents are very harmful. There is a lack of policing, which is a serious issue. We currently don’t have the police that we need on the ground. In my opinion there is definitely a link between the recent incidents and the youth centre being closed. If the children and young people had this facility available to them, then I think we would not be seeing the problems on the scale that we are now,” he said.
The Times asked the PSNI to comment on the current situation in the town and the claims of a lack of police resources in the area. They hadn’t responded at the time of publication.
It’s understood talks are ongoing between the Education Authority and Ballyclare Secondary School about the possible reopening of the youth centre.